Ah, to be back catching waves at SurfRhythm. It’s been a minute!
For those of you who might not remember me, my name is Henry Pazaryna, and I wrote for SR this past summer. After experiencing one of the single most fun, and sadly last, summer of rock and roll adventures before graduation, I took some time to focus on school and my own music this past semester. But as many of you know, when the waves are calling, you have to answer. And a very friendly wave happened to reach out to me.
That wave was none other than Charles Kavoossi, a Local Waves featured artist from this past summer, and good friend of mine. Charles asked me to review his first album and it sure was a treat to do so. Recorded in Baltimore and featuring a number of talented musicians from other local groups, Charles put together a quality piece of work that can be enjoyed by people of any walk of life. The album, “Repent to Karma” by Charles Kavoossi, makes for one of the most solid pieces of work from a local artist that I have heard in a while. From the different styles to the range of musical motion, this album captures a variety of sounds at both a high level of writing and performance. While many reviewers that I read in magazines are very quick to give works of art a numerical score, I do not plan on doing that myself. I think it is somewhat disingenuous and it ruins the subjectivity of art as a whole. Because of that, I want to use a more black and white style review to make things simple, and give it a favorable grade.
While I listened to this album, I felt confused on how I would label it. Is this folk music? Alternative? Rock? Or something else? After a bit of thinking, I believe that this album is neither and all of them at the same time. It is just plain good. Despite the indie or alternative label one could easily give to this music, I believe that “Beatle-esque” might be a more appropriate way to describe this album. While I will be the first to admit that my knowledge on modern alternative is not up to par with my peers, there was a simplicity that I not only caught, but genuinely enjoyed while listening to the songs. While the complexities of the musical structures exist in Charles’ writing (and are enough to throw any musician trying to strum along for a bit of a loop), everything featured on this album is fun to listen to. My personal favorites include “Blue Eyed Jesus” and “Trip and Fall.” The music, while not only being good and fun to listen to, had very well crafted and high quality audio engineering to go along with it. Thumbs up on every front.
While the pop industrial music machine might be cranking out repeat after boring repeat, local albums just like this really strike a chord with me, and I am sure it would with many other people. Even though the minority of artists that rule the majority of the airwaves don’t take as significant risks with their work, as what was once common, local albums just like these make up for the lack of creativity in the popular scene. When people, myself absolutely included, say “music isn’t creative any more,” they just don’t know where to look. If you are into anything remotely indie, alternative, or just plain music in general, I would highly advise giving this album a listen when it is released later in February.
Congrats Chaz, you did a great job.
2. Out of Time
3. Mannequin Girls
4. Pavlovian Dog
5. Brick to Bone
6. Holes in My Heart
7. Trip and Fall
8. Repent to Karma
9. Blue Eyed Jesus
10. Bad News
Recorded at Mobtown Studios, Baltimore MD
Produced by Aaron Wold and Charles Kavoossi
Engineered by Aaron Wold
Guest musicians include: Davis Rowan (Weather the band) on drums, Evan Chapman (Square Peg Round Hole) on drums, Thom Beall (gingerwolf) on lapsteel, Deirdre McAllister on female vox (Minimus The Poet), Jason Roe on banjo, Abby Becker (Haint Blue) on violin, Max Kuzmyak (Astronaut Jones) on horns, and Aaron Wold (Minimus The Poet) on theremin.
This is the farewell tour for my summer at SurfRhythm.
And what better way to finish up the summer reviewing what I believe to be the single greatest show of all time.
Mötley Crüe’s Final Tour: All Bad Things Must Come To An End.
If you haven’t realized by now that hair metal is my not so secret guilty pleasure, I would be amazed. While my experiences opening my mind to the ways of the surf, something I genuinely enjoyed and hope to continue doing, there is something that really resonates with me and hair metal. It just strikes the right chord, if you will.
Puns aside, let’s get to the good stuff.
But first, an anecdote.
The first time I saw Crüe was during the first leg of this same tour, almost exactly one year ago in Camden, New Jersey, on my 21st birthday. I truly believe that I can say this, and with the utmost confidence: I had the greatest 21st birthday of all time. From breaking the legal, alcoholic seal on Friday night at midnight, to waking up at 8 AM to get my new license from the DMV, which could not have been any more moronic of a decision on my part, spending the day feeling like death, and road tripping up and experiencing the show with one of my closest friends. Oh, and I got with a cougar from Camden. Or Philly. I don’t really know. I think her name was Candy, or something like that. She looked so good, and get this – it was even her birthday too! She was forty. I didn’t go all the way by any means. I think her boyfriend or something was there with her, which was bizarre as hell, but whatever! I WILL BE YOUNG FOREVER!!!
Man, that whole day was so great. I was definitely afraid that I was going to catch some kind of disease and get all my money stolen, but she was so nice and cool. Gotta love that. Rock and roll, baby.
You know, I tend to amp things up pretty hard. That is who I am. I can understand when readers look at my work, and think, “Ah, this guy, he is too excitable.” That’s pretty true. But when I saw Crüe on my 21st, I don’t think I can emphasize this enough.
My mind was BLOWN.
That was the best stage show I have ever seen, by a mile.
Even better than Paul McCartney. Paul FREAKING McCartney. A Beatle. A BEATLE.
From the lights, to the sound, to the set, the performance, and the excessive pyrotechnics (that is an understatement, it really was an… explosive show), I think it is safe to say that no one will be able to come close to the party that is Mötley Crüe’s final tour for a very, very long time.
Fast forward one year and through another lifetime of new experiences, and I was catching them again with another one of my closest friends. Almost one year to the day, Crüe had a show set up for a thirty minute drive from my house. I would have been an idiot to not go.
Because it was absolutely amazing, again.
Playing at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, headbangers of all ages and walks of life came to see this final tour, and it was a solid turnout. The overall attitude seemed good. No fighting or excessive drunken idiots wandering around, with a mix of ass kicking rockers and their hot rocker wives. I did see a noticeable amount of Steelers gear for the heart of Baltimore, and it definitely made me think, “man, these guys have balls.” I would have been a little too nervous to rock my own Steelers cap, but my hair (and Jack Daniels tank top) looked too good. No harm, no foul.
Opening the show was none other than Alice Cooper himself, who put on a 45 or so minute set of his biggest hits. Accompanied by a stellar band, including Nita Strauss of the Iron Maidens, as his dynamite, bombshell lead guitarist, Cooper served as the perfect first act. Performing hits such as “Feed My Frankenstein,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and his most popular song as his own finale, “School’s Out For Summer,” Cooper, as an opening act, could not have set the stage any better. Not only was his music great, but the use of props such as a ten foot tall Frankenstein monster coming out and joining on a chorus or two, guillotines for Alice’s daily beheading, swords, balloons, and snakes, presented the quintessential Cooper that we have come to know and love. Alice, age 67, still had all of his charisma and a nice rock voice to match, again serving as the perfect opener for this tour. Truly, a great decision to invite him to play throughout every leg of the tour.
Using some of the most famous songs that reference the word “Goodbye”, such as “Hello, Goodbye,” by the Beatles, and “So Long, Farewell,” from the musical, the Sound of Music, a special kind of tongue and cheek really sat well with the crowd. Only can a band that ignites a flaming pentagram and sings “Shout at the Devil” could open a show with classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes.
Erupting immediately, it was clear that the party business was to be taken care of. The set list was so packed with Crüe’s biggest hits from the past forty years, I almost don’t want to even try and name everything. If you are familiar with any of their work, you could think of the first few Crüe songs to come into your head. “Girls, Girls, Girls.” “Dr. Feelgood.” “Kickstart My Heart”. “Wild Side.” “Live Wire.” “Home Sweet Home.” And they were all there, every single one. And then some more.
As if the spectacle itself didn’t cover the price of the ticket and then some, the actual sound of the band, instruments and mixing, could not have been any better. The members of Mötley Crüe might not have the same kind of musicianship and technical expertise as a group like Rush, or a classical orchestra for that matter of comparison, might have, but the band still kicked serious ass. From Vince Neil’s vocals, Nikki Sixx holding everything together with the bass, Tommy Lee truly outdoing his wildman reputation on the drums, and Mick Mars, who may be the secret weapon in the group, shredding it on the guitar, these men performed beautifully. Again, for 50+ year old guys who literally overdosed, died, and was given two shots of adrenaline to come back to life in the ambulance, Nikki Sixx’s true life inspiration for arguably Crüe’s biggest hit, “Kickstart My Heart,” I don’t think they could have played any better. Great hard rock tone, bumping rhythm, good vocals, everything was pretty much at the height of their talent.
Oh – and one more thing. It would seem pretty hard to steal a show like this, but Tommy Lee may have done so. Doing something he proclaimed he wanted all his life, the drum solo took a different turn, literally. Built 40 feet in the air and maybe more, going across the length of the arena was the Crüecify rocking roller coaster: a mechanical set up that featured a fully spinning Tommy Lee harnessed into his drum set moving across the length of the arena. Forget that this abilities aren’t quite at the level of guys like Bonham, or Keith Moon, or Neil Peart, the greatest of all time. Tommy Lee obliterated his drums to fifteen or so minutes worth of rap, pop songs, electronic music, and rock on a roller coaster over the crowd. The sea of cell phones taking pictures and video light up the faces of the crowd, and words can’t really describe in full what it looks like. An amazing feat of engineering even for a band synonymous with grand spectacle, and the most creative drum solo I have ever seen.
Going into concerts now, I seem to have put myself in an odd position. While still being the life of the party, I am seeing so much more through the eyes of an objective critic than just a normal observer. I thought that it may have been put to rest after dropping out of Musical Theater School (and thank whatever made up deity you believe in that I did that, because I sure as hell am), but it is truly clear how much I am able to observe, almost to a fault.
From the critical standpoint of a decently trained reviewer and someone who had seen this exact show before, there were only few small things that I caught that were not as strong as the rest of the overall picture, the first of which was the state of Vince Neil’s voice. Neil was not quite able to reach his highest screaming notes in some of the songs, but thinking about his age, past lifestyle habits, and the fact that it was a show on a Wednesday night, I would be surprised to find a singer around that could do that. Aside from that, he still sounded fantastic, no complaint there, even though he may not be as an explosive a showman as my main man David Lee Roth The second thing was the state of the pyrotechnics and the explosions. While there was still a heavy usage of pyrotechnics along with the light show, a honestly beautiful feat of rock engineering, I definitely noticed that there were one or two spots that did not make use of the full firework effect, seeing it a second time. I think I can correctly attribute that to the fact that they were playing in an arena designed for 20,000 people. Not the usual, massive outdoor show. You can’t totally burn down a venue. I’m pretty sure it says that somewhere in their contract.
But aside from those two little things?
Sheer rock perfection. Everything about the 1980’s excess, focused into a two hour performance. You could feel the heat coming from the fires on stage. Explosions were so loud, they shook your whole body. Lights were so meticulously arranged and programmed, that they have easily outdone any performer I have ever seen, and by a long shot at that.
Now, just for the record, I don’t really feel like making any comments on some of the darker parts of Crüe’s timeline, as some pretty bad things have happened over the years, and they can’t really be defended. But as a fan here for the music and the show? They couldn’t have done any better.
While driving home after the gig, I thought a lot about this style of music, and what makes bands like these succeed to such an extent still. Forget about the nostalgia and living in the past for a moment, and think about the music itself – what really matters. One could almost make an argument that this specific style of music, hair metal, is as close to pop music as it is rock and blues, from which anything with an American, electric guitar is based. With the flashy riffs, catchy lyrics, and great image, bands like these put on anthemic shows that keep crowds energized and singing along for the whole night. While listening to two hours worth of anthemic rock on a car radio or an iPod might be a little draining, going ballistic in an arena to two hours worth of the best live music you could think about has no equal.
After signing a “cessation of touring agreement”, according to Rolling Stone’s initial reports, I think it is all but certain that this truly is the end. Listening to this music even now and watching concert videos days later, I couldn’t be any more content knowing that I was able to see this group and tour before it is finished forever. I am so glad I could witness this before it is gone forever.
And thus, like my summer at SurfRhythm, I could not be any more happy to have stumbled in and been able to do what I did. I’m not really a sappy person, and I won’t begin to do so now, but I will say that it has been a pleasure doing this all summer. While my content will not be as regular as it was over the last few months, I will be back irregularly for a few more reviews and interviews. I am going to see The Who in November, and expect to see that shortly after, as well as a few more deep conversations with local artists that I did not get a chance to meet with this summer. Still, I hope you as readers enjoyed catching up with us and taking a look at some of my Hunter Thompson – esque adventures over the last few months. I can tell you from my end, they sure were fun.
Thanks one more time for keeping up with everything. It has been a pleasure.
I bought the ticket, and I am definitely still taking the ride.
Finishing up with what should be the last Local Waves installment of the summer, I made a bigger decision this week regarding my subject matter. While I have learned a lot about the city of Annapolis, even if it was only from a select few that I am incredibly grateful towards letting me pester them, there are so many more voices to be heard that talk about the big picture. While the idea for the series did start as a kind of “beat reporting” in one small, highly concentrated area of musicians that I sort of knew to begin with, I enjoyed stepping out of the Annapolis sphere and finding out more from others who did not take the path that we heard so much from over the last few months. While I am very grateful for everything I learned from a place I so intimately know, I found myself questioning the popular attitude of this specific music city. A great music town, without a doubt. One of the best small music towns that I have ever been to? Probably, yes. But, a small town nonetheless.
With that in mind, I took a trip up north to the city of Baltimore – a place that I am more familiar with since my work this summer. I was able to meet a subject who could not have been any easier to talk to (even with my own football bias) and learn about her experiences in the city itself. A true native, not just another person looking in.
This week’s Local Waves features Ms. Rachel Anne Warren – a freelance writer and musician. Her story may be one of the more interesting ones we have heard all summer. From her work around the city to her travels across the country, Rachel provides another new look on artistic experiences that do not fit in the usual performer’s mold. Without any further introduction, here is this week’s local wave.
Henry Pazaryna: So this is the latest Local Waves. I have read that you have performance and writing experience. Would you mind talking about them? Whichever one you want to do first, but definitely the other as well?
Rachel Warren: Yeah, no problem. So right now, for the last ten months, I have been a full time writer and musician. I guess we can start with the writing.
HP: Sure. So start from the beginning. LIke where you got your start and everything that happened with that.
RW: So, it was kind of unexpected. I worked for a brewery for nine years when my biological father passed away, and in the week that followed, I decided that I wanted to change my life. I had been trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself for a couple years before, and suddenly it became really clear to me that I have always been a writer. I just never really shared it with anyone before, other than my mentor and a couple of friends. And it just sort of surfaced clearly to me, like “this is what you should be doing.” So, that day, I got on Craigslist, looked for the first job that I saw in writing, applied for it, got it. I stayed there for about a year, learned copywriting, and for the last ten months I have been mostly writing for alt weeklies and other online publications as a contributing writer.
HP: Are you living in the city right now?
RW: Yep. I live in Charles Village, in a mint green carriage house that was built in 1902, and I love it. But I am subletting in Richmond for about six weeks, at least. I’m sort of self-imposing an artist residency (laughs) there. I will be splitting time. I sing with a wedding band. That’s how I make half of my living these days. So, I will be coming back on weekends for that.
HP: So moving towards your music. What started all of your performances? I have definitely seen some pictures of crazy hair colors and a bunch of different styles. What is going on with that?
RW: I have always enjoyed making costumes, and I made extra money in college making costumes for different opera companies, theatre companies, and it has kind of always been in my life. My mom and grandma are great seamstresses. Also, I get really nervous performing, and I don’t know why that won’t ever go away, but what helps me feel a little bit more comfortable is becoming someone else outwardly. I wear wigs, I wear costumes, I wear makeup.
HP: How old were you when you started doing pure performance? Is this a recent endeavor or was this back when you were learning how to sew with your mom?
RW: I first started learning how to sew when I was pretty young, maybe nine or ten years old, so it was probably around the same time. My sisters and brother and I were doing musicals at camp a little before that, but despite discovering that I have a very loud singing voice, I couldn’t sing on pitch. I got better in high school, where I did lots of shows, and I went to college for a couple of years for music and eventually writing. Since then, I have been in bands and writing songs.
HP: If we wanted to look you up now, what group, or is there even a group, or is it just you as a solo artist?
RW: You have come to me at a strange time. In an effort to really focus on my own original material, I made a difficult decision to leave the post-punk band that I have enjoyed playing with for the last three years, PLRLS, and simultaneously, the other band I have been playing with for ten years, Gunwife Gone, has decided to say goodnight. It’s kind of freed up my time, all in line with going to Richmond for a while, just so I can re-think how I want to approach my music. It seems like my gut is telling me that I want to work with just one person. The idea is that it will inevitably be easier to record, if not free, and you can be more agile when it’s just two people. When you have a whole band, you have to deal with conflicting schedules, and people taking off work, and you can’t really get out on the road quite as much. So my hope is that it will be a nice, malleable thing that can get around.
HP: What kind of stuff will this be? Is it going to be more like an acoustic open mic – nighter type style, or is it going to be eclectic…?
RW: I want it to be something like “Soul Noir.” That’s a term I keep using, but the idea is that I love singing soul and I love singing the blues, and I love just letting it all out there emotionally. But I also love the noir style, which is super refined and dark, and kind of spooky, and a kind of trepidation that can be very gentle. At times, mysterious. Joining the two feelings is how I envision it. Some people that I admire a lot are Tom Waits, Joanna Newsom, Bjork, Radiohead, Bessie Smith, Amy Winehouse. I feel like each one of them has this incredible way of telling a story that is both approachable and has that soul, and the noir, too. It’s something I aspire to. But I would like to find the right partner. I imagine that would be someone who can change my songs and take them to another level, complicate them. I don’t feel a lot of ownership over the songs as written, so I would like for someone to be able to bring their own arrangement, voice, and their own style. I write pretty simple songs. They are like pop, but with a darkness in the lyrics. I wouldn’t necessarily want it to be a traditional singer – songwriter type thing. At the same time, I have been practicing guitar. I cut all my nails (laughs) on my left hand so I can start playing again. It’s been a minute. I would like to be able to perform in the streets and perform at open mics just while I am writing and figuring out who my next partner will be.
HP: This next question might be a bit much. I asked the last girl that I interviewed about this. As a woman, have you faced any hardships in that respect, in both writing and music? Or has it been relatively easy?
RW: I have only been in bands that have other women in them, and that is a choice that I have always made. It’s a preference. I love supporting my fellow creative women and working with them. So that hasn’t really been an issue with bands so much for me personally. But, I will say that making the choice to be a full time writer and musician – a lot of that came from working in the beer industry, which is pretty much entirely male dominated. And I had plenty of problems and issues, and still, having been out of it for a couple years, I still feel like I have to remind people that I wasn’t just a promo girl. That I held five sales and marketing positions across eight states. That I managed territory, that I did things, that I grew brands. But it’s hard to get people to see beyond “Oh, she did events.” I’m too familiar with that. But I don’t really face it these days, thankfully. Writing is pretty liberal, and pretty open minded. I would say that there should be more diversity in the music scene, and the writing scene locally here. We should be making a more concerted effort to integrate ourselves. So it’s not just all white dudes in bands at certain clubs or on bills. There should be a proper mix of what the city is made of, and that is a very diverse group of people.
HP: Going off of that: were you around when the riots happened? Or, the uprisings, back in, what was that… April or May? Would you mind talking about what you saw, as a writer, and what you commented on, or what you chose not to? Was there anything going on about that?
RW: I didn’t write anything about Freddie Gray, and what he means, for anyone but myself. You know, as a writer, you write anywhere from five to one hundred things for every one thing that’s published sometimes. I will say, it was really incredible to see people come together in a way that I don’t remember ever having seen before. And I hope very much that we will continue to progress and that it’s not just something that happened, that we move on from, and don’t make the necessary changes. I know I’m trying to personally change and be more aware of what I say, what I do, and how I am in the world. I want to keep asking questions and keep figuring out how I can be a good part of society. A more fair person in society.
HP: Closing up. While you are going to be away for a while, what can we expect to hear or see from you in the immediate and not so immediate future. Do you have any long term plans, or are you taking it day by day at this point.
RW: Sure. I have a plan. Or, I am figuring it out – there are definitely some projects that have been in the front of my mind and the back of my plate for the last nine months, but I have a good feeling about where it’s headed. I am actively making that come together. One of my big goals is that I wrote a memoir, a full length memoir, about this time I ran away to join the circus, and I have been struggling to get through the second draft with notes from my mentor. So, my goal for my time away is to get the second draft done. Otherwise, musically, I don’t know what shape it will take. It will be something cool though. I hope.
Serious thanks again to Rachel for being willing to sit down with me and chat. Check out Rachel’s website below to keep up with her writing, as well as her social media to check out her endeavors down South and the next show she plays. And once again, for what appears to be the final time this summer, thank you very much to the readers of this series. These interviews are not finished altogether, but will be on somewhat of a temporary hiatus while I get in gear for my fall semester. While it may be a hot second, it’s still only catch you later. Have fun riding local waves of your own.
I think I was up for more than two days straight at the time. Five hours of sleep, after getting back to Maryland from New Jersey past three in the morning following the event does not really fix that in one night. My arms feel shredded from the amount of fist pumping I got away with doing in public, and my voice sounds like that of a sixty year old smoker. Raw.
But then again, if you are going to party, there’s only one group that can take you over the top…
The mighty Van Halen.
Glad to have got that off my chest.
This past weekend, I traveled up North to New Jersey to catch my most influential and still living rock band: VAN HALEN. Flying high since the original and only true lead singer David Lee Roth’s return in 2007, Van Halen’s tenure as a group has been milking the cash cow each tour, and for good reason. Even without the original bass player, Michael Anthony, these guys still know how to sell out a venue. And on a Sunday night? The place very well may have been oversold with the amount of people that showed up (nobody call the fire chief!). Playing both a mixture of their hits and some deep tracks that have not been seen or heard live since the eighties, something any hardcore fan can respect immeasurably, these guys made for quite the weekend.
But the weekend did not just start on a Sunday night.
After finishing up a late Friday night practice with my own rock group, I left for New Jersey on Saturday with one of my closest friends from high school. Hitting the most depressing of all Bay Bridge traffic, we made it up to Jersey safe and sound with a rocking playlist to keep the energy up and the windows down to feel the summer breeze. After gorging on the pizza and Italian subs already waiting for us and the requisite time spent visiting relatives, we made our way to Point Pleasant for one of the most pleasant surprises I have seen playing live in a long time.
Headlining at Jenkinson’s, an extremely popular local bar and dance club, was the group Go Go Gadjet. Coming all the way from Pennsylvania, but self professed to having spent the last ten years touring heavily on the road and fine tuning their craft, Go Go Gadjet was one of the best party rock bands I have ever seen. Simple as that. Combining one of the most eclectic set lists I have heard in a while, from Nicki Minaj’s “Hey Mama” to R. Kelly’s “Remix to Ignition”, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and the finale, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, this group brought the party to a whole new level. I seriously thought that it was just a great DJ who had set up on stage, thanks to the out of this world light show (for a “bar band”, using the term loosely) that could be seen coming through the windows of the venue on the beach, but seeing a live group tear it up like that in front of me? Mind blowing. Looking back and thinking about it, these guys almost reminded me of a much less creative, but still talented, version of Van Halen from back in the day. While the party itself has changed since the late 70’s, it seems that the atmosphere has not. Truly, a great show. While their schedule may not be as easy to access as Van Halen’s, I would definitely recommend checking them out if you get the chance. They seem to play a lot of beach venues like this one, but up and down the East Coast, and they make for a spectacular show.
The fateful day of the concert, Sunday, encompassed an early morning with the afternoon spent at the beach. If I had to have one legitimate gripe about this whole trip, it would come politically: the consumption tax that is so heavily apparent in New Jersey is a straight up shame. After paying twenty dollars (eighteen, if we are exactly counting – I had to break a twenty for me and my buddy and am still bitter) to just sit on the beach and not even swim? I think I am allowed to be a little pissed. I was able to cool my jets as soon I saw the waves that were eight feet high, and with the recent deaths of local swimmers being taken out by the riptide fresh in my mind, just sitting down was for the best. Relaxing on the sand is still nice, and after getting a slight tan on my embarrassingly pasty white bod, I felt calm. Like the calm before the storm.
Van Halen was coming.
Flying up the parkway and blasting the sounds of Southern California in the 80’s does not paint a clear enough picture for the pump up of seeing another classic rock show in Jersey. Yeah, Jersey has some attitude, but I would rather be there than in Times Square.
A short disclaimer –
I will be the first to say this, although after reading just a few sentences, it should not come as such a surprise: I fucking love Van Halen. Everything they stand for. The music, the image, the attitude, and the girls. Hearing Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” for the first time as at twelve years old blew my mind, as it did to everyone else’s. So much of my own personality fits in so perfectly with the Van Halen attitude, that a comparison made between the two could not find results to be any closer. These guys are the standard bearers for going wild, and for a wildman like myself, it is a match made in heaven. Hell, in my senior year of high school, guess what I band I sang to, to headline the most popular school rock review show as the quintessential male lead singer? Van Halen!
But reminiscing about the glory days is besides the point of this review.
Actually, it is the saddest comparative truth that I can make.
The performance of the Van Halen family and the greatest living frontman alive today?
I dislike comparing groups at a high focus, with so much concentration on every aspect that they put forward to an audience. Not only are you, as an audience member, not living in the moment and focusing on what you paid to see in front of you, you could lose some of your objectivity in processing what is immediately happening in the now.
That being said, Van Halen was not as good the last big hair metal show I saw in New Jersey, which was Motley Crue. It was apparent that these guys are over the hump. While anyone using that “classic 80’s” musical tone is standing on the shoulders of the guy who literally invented it, Eddie Van Halen, the first person to put a humbucker in a stratocaster body, the group that built from nothing into the culture that surrounded them, sadly, did not live up to the monuments they erected in the past. Playing the same show they have been doing since 2007, while adding notable deep tracks like “Feel Your Love Tonight”, “Light up the Sky”, “Dirty Movies”, and “Drop Dead Legs”, I had some thoughts walking away from a still great show.
Between a combination of poor sound mixing, somewhat of a lack of creativity, and a little bit of age, Van Halen did not put on the ultimately best objective show that their reputation would bill them as doing.
Don’t get me wrong. I had an absolute blast. The show was great. Seeing your idols in front of your own eyes playing the hits they wrote before you were born is always mind blowing when you sit and think about it. These are the guys that came on the radio with “Eruption” and “Runnin’ With the Devil” and blew everyone’s collective minds in 1978. Eddie is the greatest living guitarist, and he is second only to Jimi Hendrix, the man who revolutionized the electric guitar, in my own and many other’s books. David Lee Roth is without any doubt in my mind, the greatest living frontman, by a mile. Second only to the Lord himself, Freddie Mercury. Putting those two together? It was very clear, even from the lawn seats, that the sparks still flew like the fires of Vesuvius from these gods of rock and roll playing together. Diamond Dave’s still had a Dionysian stage presence and banter, with a surprisingly good voice for how he has treated it since the 70’s. As for Eddie? Just watch the videos of his guitar solos. They speak for themselves.
The rhythm section was not slouching either, but it was clear that they were the piece that was missing something. Alex, while sadly showing his age, held his own as a good rock drummer. Nothing new or exciting, but still good. This leads me to Wolfgang Van Halen. The son of a rock god. I feel genuinely bad taking any shots at Wolfie. For a young man, only two years older than myself, Wolfie can be the butt of a lot of eyebrow raising, and for a truthful reason. Replacing one of the most underrated rock bassists and crucial back up singers of all time, Michael Anthony, Wolfie can get some negativity just being there, even if he does do a good job. And he does do a good job, make no mistake about it. As someone who could imagine trying to share glory with his son, like Eddie and Wolf himself, I don’t feel right judging Wolfie for what he does. But… I almost don’t even want to say it. Thanks to poor mixing, the bass seemed like it was not there a lot of times. It seems bad to judge one event based on one misstep, but the lack of rhythm really was apparent, and it was not the first time they have ever done this set up. Yes, it would fade in and out, and yes both his bass playing and backup singing is exponentially better from the time he first stepped in to play with his dad. But, and this seems just sacrilegious even thinking about it, I kind of agree with what Sammy Hagar (ehh) has been saying lately in response to Eddie’s pretty nasty interviews. I miss Mikey too.
Let the record show that Sammy Hagar was never in a band called Van Halen. The band called Van Halen lived, died, and was resurrected by David Lee Roth. Eddie Van Halen was the only person responsible for creating some of the greatest rock riffs and blowing collective generations of minds. Not the synth pop he pushed in 1986.
But even as David Lee Roth himself has been quoted to say, Eddie is the man who got you in the door. Diamond Dave sells you the Bibles.
I hold these guys to impossibly high standards. Unrealistic, even. That statement alone should pretty much get rid of any credibility I had, which probably wasn’t that much to begin with. In the two hour show, there was one, maybe two songs that I didn’t know every word to. I know this material better than some of my extended family members. And I would be the first one to point out what was not all there, based on any kind of studio trickery was employed back in the day (coincidentally, one of the biggest complaints of the music industry that I have today – if you can’t do it live, you shouldn’t do it at all). And a lot of it was not all there. Thank whatever deity you believe in for David Lee Roth. Homerism aside, it is clear that he is the reason for their success. DLR was on absolute fire, all night long. Too much wordplay and personality to even write down, combined with the surprise of the night, his voice being in tact?
I could only dream to have half the career that he had.
Hopefully it’s the half where he was killing it with the whole band, not just messing around.
I have had some serious writer’s block thinking about this piece. I could have written a nice review talking about my experience and be done with it, but I had a lot more on my mind than just that. This group means so much to me, and to think about a show that was only damn good? Well, does that make me the bad guy for thinking about it like that? As a musician and objective critic myself, I try to do my best to pick out every piece that I can and fix it. There were definitely some things that needed fixed. I will still, always, give these guys a favorable review, but I do want to be honest. With the bizarre vibe from the crowd, including the fights breaking out during the keyboard solo in “Jump” (Who fights during a synth solo? I am still confused about why that happened, but not really. alcohol + rock music + testosterone = not the best time for the general public) and what seemed to be a lack of dancing in the streets (something I went wild doing myself), there were some notable aspects of this concert that were not as overwhelmingly positive as I usually spin things.
I will still love Van Halen until the day I die. If I stop, someone help. I obviously need it.
This concert was great. But.. it could have been a little better.
My thoughts are what they are, but they should not take away from the thanks needed to family living in NJ for giving me a place to stay and food, my bro for coming with me, and most importantly, me, for just being so damn awesome.
As my last words…
“Their career may be in the twilight of what it once was, but you owe it to yourself as an American to see Van Halen at least once. “
It will take some convincing to keep me away from this group again.